Hark! An Artist. Or, Winging It Some More

badass kate

So, Untold Numbers of you long ago discovered the fabulous Kate Beaton, whose art this is. It’s from her book Hark! A Vagrant, which was “on my list” forever and which I finally read in one sitting because she is fantastic. Her Mystery Solving Teens clearly know what is What when it comes to gravestone Art, and when I saw this, I grinned like a…well, you know.

Here’s the most badass Winged skull in my personal photo collection from King’s Chapel Burial Ground in Boston. At least It thinks it is.

badass wingy

Kate Beaton’s art was used without a glimmer of permission, and I hope she won’t mind.

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Nose to Wall

 

Photographer Minor White told his students, including John Daido Loori who records the instructions in The Zen of Creativity, to “Venture into the landscape without expectations. Let your subject find you.”

I was actually waiting for the bus.  Behind the stop stretches a tall brick wall coated with ivy, Van Gogh-palette-knife-thick. All summer it spread and shone, and waggled in the street wind like nodding fox heads. I enjoy photographing the same places at different times, so waiting by the wall presented an opportunity.

I kept taking pictures of the Ivy Wall. I kept deleting pictures of the Ivy Wall. I really didn’t like the Ivy Wall. First, brick orange is not my favorite color, and the ivy was mostly a shade of green I would never want with it. Sorry, 1970s, no offense. From a distance, wide swathes of an unattractive color combination. Closer, the large, reptilian leaves that often looked Monstrous later.

It became a frustrating challenge. It didn’t matter, of course: I’m not any type of photographer except for pleasure, and to remember impressions I might want to write about. I thought about White’s advice sometimes, and hoped that if I kept trying, it might happen. I was not being quite Nobly Creative, but I was being stuck there with bags of groceries.

These cold days, the ivy is gone, and still, brown veins thread and tangle along the wall. But I love the forms of things in minimal winter, and I went over. And things kept pulling my eyes closer and closer. It felt as if the photos had just been waiting underneath all summer. How wonderful to see moss in the mortar, tiny oval yellow leaves that wind had tucked behind the vines, and the weary fruit and plant bits left behind.

I like details, forms, and shadows, things that feel like “moments” of space or color. I have no real idea how to take pictures. These photos record enjoying the Looking, and experiencing that, Hey, my subject did Find me at last. That’s a Creative lesson worth considering.

What I want to say about it is best summed up by John Daido Loori:

 I headed back to the school, for an appointment I had with Minor to discuss my work…

He looked at me and said, “You had a good day, didn’t you?” I smiled, and he smiled, too.

“What would you like to talk about?” he asked.

“Honestly,” I said, “I don’t have anything to say.”

“Good,” he replied. “Then let’s just sit here together.”

Winging It Through History

How to describe the most common motif on Puritan burial markers: symbolic, direct, folk-artsy, charming, blank-eyed, stylized, humorous, eerie…Creative. You may not see them in your neck of the woods, as their Winged Selves flock mostly in New England. Depending on their hometown, and its proximity to colonial cities, their styles vary a lot, even to the point of becoming abstract designs. Carvers imitated one another, and also did their own thing.

My own neighbors in Boston’s first English burial ground, next to the historic site where I work, are on the “realistic” end of the spectrum: proper, Toothy skulls with feathery wings. Each has its own personality, and I imagine the artists enjoying that chance to be Creative. The Puritan lifestyle was not known for decorative opportunity.

Sheepish skull

Doesn’t the one with the winged hourglass perched on its head look Sheepish?

sassy skull

The punky one with flame wings has a Sassy smile. Some have Clark Gable grins, and some have rather spider-leg-looking wings.

muscle skull

The one with the very muscle-bound shoulders also has an egg-head, so brings the brains and the brawn. A few just look quite Stoned. (I know. Inherited the pun gene from Grampa.) They appeared slowly under the Carvers’ crafty hands hundreds of years ago and watch the changing world as they soften, chip, and fade.

When I wander through the old grounds of the city, I like giving them these moods and ‘tudes. And appreciating them, Creative Acts of the past that are part of my home’s landscape.

I also have one on a T-shirt, which I wear when I’m at work next door. The shirt is a crowd favorite and just flies off the shelves. (Sorry not sorry. Papa would be proud.) So they’re part of our wardrobes, too. Imagine Cotton Mather, that old Puritan barrel of monkeys, seeing his first name of the label of a graphic T.

The Gravestone Girls make groovy fridge magnets, isolating elements from both simple and elaborate stone art in our area. They do no rubbing and no damage, but they do a lot that is Creative and Fun. This is Smilin’ Isaac!

smiling Isaac

The “wingies” make for sweet eating at Halloween, too, thanks to the Creativity of one of my colleagues, who seems to be an Artistic in Every Way.

wingy skull treat

And most recently, I saw “wingy skull” as quaint and dramatic body art inked on the shoulder of a visitor to the chapel, who kindly showed it off.

Stacie

The thing as wonderful as still having them to love and learn from is giving them new  Life in so many creative ways. Hey, boss, tote bags…

 

These stones can all be found in King’s Chapel Burial Ground on Tremont Street in Boston. You can learn much about them from James Deetz’s interesting book In Small Things Forgotten: An Archeology of Early American Life.  The work of the Gravestone Girls is at https://gravestonegirls.com/. THANK YOU to DeLIGHTful visitor Stacie Moore for sharing her ink and to the Brilliant Beam that is Lauren Bergnes Sell for the yummy photo of her work.

 

Hello. My Name Is…

Hello

I’ve been thinking about Names this week.

The textbook my students use has tips for Vivid Descriptions that begins with naming, which it says helps readers “visualize…and understand.” We recently compared “a vase of flowers” to “a vase of dandelions,” the latter not only more vivid, but an image that can generate meaning on its own. My students suggested: insulting, broke-but-still-in-love, spontaneous, and others.

A colleague at the historic site showed me a photo of blazing, tomato-paste-red leaves, and asked me sheepishly if they were in fact maple. I thought they were; there are some that ignite like this in early fall. She wanted to post Creatively with them and to be sure of their Name.  Reading Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s lively book poemcrazy: freeing your life with words has put back into simple focus how beautiful and rich words are:  Leaf. Flame. Fall. Float. Color. Earth. And names: Oak. Paperbark Maple. Linden. Pagoda Tree. Hawthorne. Elm. (And big thanks to the Boston Public Garden for all the little signs on the trunks!)

More magic name-glitter got sprinkled onto my workday at the site when I met a descendant of someone in the Burial Ground, Dr. Comfort Starr, whose name has always been a Favorite of mine. Having met this woman, I looked him up, and it turns out he was, in fact, a medical man, a “chirgeon.” Not, as I had wondered, a clergyman.  He had the perfect name for either profession, no?

Of course, once one foot is in the Research Rabbit Hole, down you go. I spent part of the afternoon reveling in the names of his many siblings. Puritan names are often wonderfully strange and creative. No offense to William or Judith or even Jehosophat, but some of their names read like a poem-fruit growing on the family tree: Moregifte Starr, Mercy Starr, Suretrust Starr, TruthShallPrevayl Starr, Standwell Starr, Beloved Starr, Joyfull Starr.

They seem to have felt the power of words as names, to witness or even to make real their Values and Aspirations.

On that note, this newly-returned-once-more-and-who-knows-maybe-again-later blog has been renamed. It is now The Creative (Almost) Full-Timer: Finding and Being Creativity in a Brimming-Over World.  My favorite name in the Boston burial grounds has always been Hopestill. Yes. Yes, indeed.

 

Thanks to Jenni, because this began when I said the words, “Yes. Maple.”